There’s a reason why the Richland Bombers are a perennial state baseball title contender. Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile.
Gonzaga Prep paid for two second-inning errors that resulted in all of Richland’s runs and a 6-5 victory in a State 4A quarterfinal Saturday afternoon at Avista Field.
In the sixth inning, Bombers center fielder Connor Moore gunned down G-Prep’s potential tying run at the plate denying the Bullpups (20-7) a second late-inning miracle.
Earlier in the day, G-Prep came back from a 5-1 deficit in the final three innings to oust Auburn Riverside 6-5.
The Bombers throttled Mead 11-0 to also reach the regional final.
“We’ve been the Cardiac Kids all year and never quit,” G-Prep coach Brian Munhall said. “But we ran out of magic.”
Richland is old school, playing fundamentally sound small ball – bunting and running – to put pressure on the opposition.
“ ‘Billy Ball,’ to be honest, is where it comes from,” Bombers coach Ben Jacobs said. “I pattern myself after Billy Martin. We’ll bunt our No. 4 hitter.”
They got plenty of help from the Bullpups in the second inning. Richland shortstop Mason Hilty, who blanked Mead in the opener, led off the inning with a double. Following a Justin Blatner strikeout, G-Prep made consecutive infield errors that set the table for all six unearned runs.
“That one inning we made five mistakes,” Munhall said.
Sophomore Blatner didn’t allow a hit the rest of the game.
As it had in Game 1, G-Prep rallied, fueled by the bottom of its order, Chris Szambelan and freshman Jordan Rathbone. Rathbone, who had three hits in the game, singled in runs in the fifth inning and more in the four-run sixth that ended with Moore’s defensive gem.
The Bullpups threatened in the seventh, but a pickoff at second ended their season.
“Our kids expect it and our coaches expect it,” Jacobs said of Richland’s latest trip to the state semifinals. “But I can’t say enough about the job Brian’s done. They impressed me. They play the game the right way.”
In the semifinal, G-Prep trailed Auburn Riverside 3-0 in the first inning. Pitcher David Machtolf settled down thereafter and offensive magic again came in the form of Szambelan and Rathbone.
Rathbone had a two-run single in the sixth for the tie and Szambelan won it with a bases-loaded hit in the bottom of the seventh.
Rathbone was brought up to varsity late in the season, giving the Bullpups an additional offensive threat.
“I was just trying to play good enough so I could be called up,” Rathbone said.
Of his hit, he added, “I was just trying to put the ball in play. I didn’t want to strike out and let down the team.”
Richland 11, Mead 0: Things went wrong for the Panthers from the outset. An ill-advised pickoff attempt by catcher Dane Crater with two outs and runners at the corners went awry for a run. Things didn’t get better.
The team had only two base runners through three innings, both ultimately out via double play and an attempted steal.
Trailing 2-0 in the fifth, Mead had its best chance to score when Jordan McGowan led off the inning with a long double and Dan Mattingly followed, yanking a scorching single to right and stealing second. Both runners were stranded.
Richland scored nine runs on 10 hits in the fifth and sixth innings.
“It’s always tough to go through Richland,” Panthers coach Jason Reich said. “We knew they were a real good team and I just talked with Coach Jacobs and he said they hadn’t hit that well in five weeks.”
Mead (19-6) finished the game with four hits and fanned seven times over the final four frames ending an otherwise successful season.